If asked to name a famous female physicist, the name Marie Curie is the one most likely to come to mind. But there are many others and one of the people who should be much better known is Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997), who used to be often referred to as Madame Wu.
It was her careful experimental work that showed that parity violation did indeed occur, as predicted by theoretical physicists Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee. Yang and Lee received the Nobel prize for this in 1957 but Wu’s contribution was not recognized, an omission that has been widely criticized.
Wu was a remarkable physicist who did receive many other honors, as can be read in this biographical article. She was the first Chinese-American elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1958 and in 1967 she served as the first female president of the American Physical Society.
Yesterday, on the occasion of the sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the U.S. Postal Service issued a new forever stamp to honor her.
Rob Grigjanis says
To my shame, I didn’t know about Wu until long after I left physics. Her work was key to the later development of the Standard Model.
John Morales says
I had to look this up:
(US) A postage stamp with no indicated monetary value and indefinitely valid for a given service, e.g. a domestic first-class letter under 20 grams.”
As for posthumous honours, well… they’re certainly not appreciated by the deceased.
Rob Grigjanis says
Where did you get your MBO (Master of the Bleedin Obvious)? The importance lies in the living recognizing the contributions of the deceased. But you knew that.
She also wrote the book on Beta Decay.
In my time I’ve been asked to write reports on various accomplished people in history, at least one time specifying “women scientists” (and what a sea of Marie Curie responses that elicits!) and I regularly pick Madame Wu in the confident knowledge that I’m actually going to educate anyone I give the report to.
file thirteen says
Mano, why did you abbreviate her name in the title rather than spelling it in full?
You can see the stamp here
I admit I don’t recall Madame Wu.
From Ye Pfffft! of All Knowledge article, “In 1975, Robert Serber, the new chairman of the Physics Department at Columbia University, adjusted her pay to make it equal to that of her male counterparts.” She joined Columbia in August 1945, and was a full professor since 1958.
Mano Singham says
file thirteen @#5,
That was how she was referred to from the time I became aware of her work back in graduate school and how I always knew her as.